I’ve often been struck by the size of the cultural and artistic changes that the 1960s saw. The best way I’ve found to really get a grip on the enormity of those changes is to track the evolution of the music of the Beatles. In this day and age when musicians don’t seem or can’t be bothered to grow and experiment with their craft, the Beatles went from belting out covers of 1950s R&B tunes like “Twist And Shout” to the psychedelica of the Sgt. Peppers album to the mature introspection of their final album, Let It Be over the space of eight years years.
But not everybody was able to make the transition through that decade successfully. Some were limited by their talents, while others were limited by their audience’s perceptions of them. One of those in the latter group was the pop band, the Monkees. Commonly derided by their critics with the nickname “the Pre-Fab Four,” the quartet was put together to star in a TV show that producers hoped would cash in on the success of the Beatles popular film A Hard Day’s Night. But just two years after it premiered on NBC to phenomenal ratings and a string of hit singles, the Monkees were out of vogue, their shiny pop tunes out of step with the suddenly darker times America was in following the assassinations of Robert Kennedy Jr. and Martin Luther King.
The Monkees and the producers of their television series attempted to capture the changing mood in their film Head. Co-written by Jack Nicholson – yes, that Jack Nicholson – and featuring appearances from such people as Frank Zappa, Dennis Hopper, Annette Funicello, Victor Mature and boxer Sonny Liston, the movie would perplex critics and confuse the small number of people who actually made the trip to the theaters. With the movie a financial bomb, the Monkees soon went their separate ways until the mid-80s, when they were to reunite following the airing of their old series on a new cable network devoted to pop music- M-TV.
Now on the 40th anniversary of the release of Head, the Los Angeles Times has talked to Monkee members Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz about the film, what the band was trying to achieve with it and whether the film’s financial failure doesn’t necessarily equate to artistic success.